El Salvador Election

Why Wait Until After the Election to Begin the Coup?

This Sunday, March 21, 2004 El Salvador will hold national elections. Until recently the FMLN (the moderate left opposition in El Salvador) was ahead in public opinion polls, leading ARENA, the far right government party. Recently the polls, conducted exclusively by media sympathetic to ARENA, have shown the right leading.

However ARENA seems not entirely confident of this. Last week around 80 international observers, mostly U.S. citizens, were detained by Salvadoran Immigration. All were released; though another 14 were deported back to the U.S. Wednesday of this week, another sixty were detained.

As of the writing of this article, CISPES (Committee in Solidarity With the People of EL Salvador http://www.cispes.org/ ) believed that all sixty had been released, but had not yet obtained confirmation from human rights groups in El Salvador. Why harass international election of observers unless you did not believe you could win the election by fair means and intended to steal to election.

As another sign that ARENA is not as confident as it pretends, it has begun the usual tactic of threatening mass closure of factories weeks earlier than normal in a Salvadoran election. Since late February, employers have called workers into meetings and told them not to expect their factories to open for work if the FMLN is elected. In Salvadoran politics this is typically saved for the last workday before the election.

It appears the U.S. is concerned too. According to CISPES:

U.S. intervention in the electoral campaign began as early as June of last year. That was when former Ambassador Rose Likins publicly questioned the leftist FMLN party’s commitment to democratic principles and accused its leaders of celebrating the September 11th terrorist attacks. Then in February 2004, Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs for the U.S. State Department, Roger Noriega, was in El Salvador where he canceled a meeting with FMLN presidential candidate Schafik Hándal and called on Salvadorans to vote for someone who “shares our [U.S.] vision and values.”

And of course it is not likely that El Salvador which is dependent upon U.S. aid and trade, would arrest U.S. citizens without at least tacit support by the U.S. government. In fact in the midst of the recent crisis, Otto Reich avoided saying anything about these mass detentions but did find time to claim that “..the FMLN has fraternal relations with terrorist governments and groups..,” said Reich. He added hat the FMLN sustained a relationship with ETA, the Basque separatist group thought by some at the time responsible for the recent bombings in Spain.

Referring to the presidential election scheduled for March 21st, he continued, “I don’t think this would lead to good relationships between the United States and El Salvador if the FMLN wins.” Reich then stopped just short of fully endorsing the ARENA party stating that he wanted to recognize “all that ARENA has done for El Salvador.”

So far, observers have not been yet been harassed once they made it inside. But there are indications that this is at least being considered. According to CISPES:

The mid-day news today cited a case of elections observers going out to the free trade zones to interview maquiladora workers as a case of observers using their observer status to do “political” work. Despite the less-than-warm welcome from the right, elections observers from the U.S., Latin America, and Europe continue to pour into the country. Physical attacks on FMLN activists and threats of violence also continue.

In Usulután an FMLN activist was injured when ARENA “activists” attacked him and threw rocks, hitting him in the face. The attacker was later arrested. The CISPES delegation was witness to an attack on Wednesday morning on the STISSS headquarters. Early in the morning a group of people dressed in red T-shirts went to the STISSS offices to hang an ARENA flag.

Later in the morning they returned, and the assailants attacked the union headquarters with rocks, bricks, and an explosive. The situation was immediately controlled by the STISSS members and nobody was hurt. There are reports that ARENA is hiring young people to put on red T-shirts and go out and commit violent acts. The attacks and threats of more violence from ARENA have served to double the observers commitment to accompanying the Salvadoran people on the 21st in order to help assure fair elections.

The latest U.S. pressure favoring the ARENA far right party was a press conference in which Rep. Thomas Tancredo from Colorado outright threatened the poor of El Salvador by saying that he would work to “control” remittances if the FMLN wins these elections. Remittances are the monies Salvadorans working in the USA send back to their families – something many in El Salvador have become dependant upon. Tancredo also said, “Under an FMLN presidency, the U.S. government would not have a trustworthy counterpart that would satisfy our legitimate concerns about national security, especially our concerns about the risk that support groups for the FMLN, like the FARC, represent.”

Will this succeed? Will ARENA be able to steal this election? Or will threats from the U.S. terrify the people of El Salvador into keeping the right wing government that serves the interests of the U.S. government and capital?

We won’t know for certain. One sign that people may not be intimidated is that on Saturday, March 13th, there were 50,000 people in San Salvador, on Monday in Santa Ana a reported 30,000, on Tuesday in San Miguel another 20,000, and on Wednesday Usulután there were nearly 25,000 people at the final campaign event.

On the other hand the people of El Salvador know these threats are not empty. The invasion of Iraq, the attempted coup in Venezuela, the recent coup in Haiti, the memory of the torment the people of Nicaragua when they elected a government that displeased the U.S. tells the people of El Salvador what they will face if the elect a government that displeases the U.S. government.

So far (March 19,2004) this story has not reached any of the mainstream English Language press – not even the news services.

You may want to call your local newspaper to ask why not. If they want resources for information on this, they can call CISPES at 212-465-8115. Also In the US: Hilary Klein ­ CISPES observer who was detained & forced to return to the U.S., (510) 923-0676 In El Salvador Burke Stansbury: 011 503 785-4446 Please don’t call them yourself – we don’t want these numbers overwhelmed with calls. Just ask your local newspaper to.

They can get U.S. government side from the state department as they always do. The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador can confirm the detention of U.S. citizens in that country. U.S. Embassy in El Salvador – over the weekend,call 011-503-234-2316, on weekdays call Annie Pforzheimer, the Counselor for Political Affairs at (011) 503-278-4444 x2025.

On Monday, regardless of who wins, you may want to contact the U.S. State department to let them know you are displeased with U.S. interference in what was supposed to be democratic election. If the FMLN wins, you may want to express opposition now to economic warfare against the people of El Salvador, and U.S. funding of armed opposition groups. 202-647-6575

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